A very reluctant star decides it’s best to tell one’s own story
A very private man, Hunter has penned his autobiography, “Tab Hunter: Confidential.” He met me for an interview joined by his co-producer and longtime lover, Allan Glaser, with whom he made “Lust in the Dust” with Divine in 1985. At 74, Hunter looks 20 years younger, at least, still boyish in mien and manner, and a more unaffected soul you’ll never meet. A strong sense of self and deep spirituality helped him withstand the experience of being outed by the tabloid press in the ‘50s, not to mention studio pressures and scurrilous lawsuits.
Hunter is a devout Catholic and had just come from mass at St. Patrick’s and spoke up for a church under fire from many in the gay community.
“For the Catholic Church, it’s a big time of transition,” he said. “Of course, we’re only going to hear the worst, but I don’t like to concentrate on the negative. That’s not where I’m at; I owe the Catholic Church a great deal. I don’t care where you find religion, be appreciative of it and try to be understanding and grow from it.”
In our conversation, it was clear these are issues with which he is struggling, and which perhaps represent just one more hurdle in his uneasy accommodation with his celebrity.
“It’s a very difficult thing,” he replied. “Personally, I’m not against gay marriage. I think domestic partnerships are wonderful and important. Love is love, but too many people are too quick to cast stones. To me, domestic partnership works. I’m a very private person and I don’t have a gay agenda or anything. I am what I am, but people put spins on things and I don’t think that’s fair. All I want is for people to be fair with one another in life. I’m an old warhorse; it’s all been said about me. I’m not here to win a popularity contest, just to do the best I can. People are going to say what they want to—that’s their problem not mine. They pound away at you like a sledgehammer and they’ll discard you like an old corpse.”
Just writing the book honestly was a pretty big step for the actor.
“I never said anything about my sexuality, but when I found out that somebody else was writing my biography, I thought, ‘Wait a minute! Get it from the horse’s mouth, not from some horse’s ass after I’m dead and gone.’ I just can’t have that. I’ve read things about people that are gone with all kinds of spin put on them and that’s not right. Tony Perkins [Hunter’s one-time lover] didn’t get to tell his own story, so many others, too—not just gay people.”
Don’t, however, buy the book expecting salacious details. True to his ‘50s era coming of age, Hunter draws a discreet veil over his love affairs, practically on the order of “our relationship began that night.”
“Oh gosh, some people criticize me for not getting more into it, but I’m not that kind of person,” he chuckled. “That stuff is between you and your partner, the love of your life, a very personal thing that should be shared with them, not with the world.”
When I mentioned his status as an icon of beauty for generations of gay men, he scoffed, “Oh, please! I really don’t think about the external. I get up and shave in the morning and look in the mirror and think, ‘Oh God, you look like hell,’ and isn’t that part of the process? [As for facelifts] if people have to do that, that’s fine, but I just think our society places such importance on the external… Oh, I’m sure there was a period when I thought, ‘Oh, wow, I’m a movie star,’ but how long can that last? It’s all a façade.”
Still, the actor posed for more than his share of beefcake shots.
“That was because they wanted a picture with my shirt off and would say, ‘Okay, now will you hold your English saddle?’” he explained. “Now you don’t ride without a shirt on, but if you want a photo, you do. Nowadays, I take my dogs for a run on the Santa Barbara beach and ride horses three to four times a week. I try and go at least twice a week to the gym, but Samantha, my aerobics teacher, is too tough for me.”
Hunter first arrived in Southern California showing horses in Santa Barbara and recalled that it was “like the south of France with mountains and the beach.”
Of Glaser, he said, “We first met at 20th Century Fox studios and have been together over 20 years. It’s the first time in my life where I’m not on the run. I have a wonderful little place to live, with my dogs and friends.”
Hunter and Glaser have a few independent films in the works, including a script by his actress buddy, Evelyn Keyes (“cantankerous, wonderful gal and a good writer”), based on her autobiographical book, entitled “Blues in the Night.”
Hunter’s personal favorite film is “Gunman’s Walk” (1958) directed by Phil Carlson, whom he considers to be highly underrated.
“It slipped through the cracks but it had a great screenplay by Frank Nugent, co-starred Van Heflin and James Darren, and it was my first chance to play a heavy, the bad son in a family. Actually, I escaped the boy next-door image and played a number of villains, like in “Portrait of a Murderer,” with Geraldine Page on “Playhouse 90.” I was in such awe of New York stage actors like her and she was wonderful.”
Page also gave Hunter a mantra which he lives by and which he repeated at least four times during our chat: “If people don’t like you, that’s their bad taste.”